IIBN Dublin Member, Eilis Quinlan, owner of multi award-winning accountancy practice Quinlan & Co
Eilis Quinlan set up her practice in Naas, Co Kildare as soon as possible after qualifying. “As a very young mother with three small kids, a fulltime job in accountancy was not an option” she remembers. “The world was not a nice place in the early eighties, especially for farmers. We had borrowed heavily to invest in our first farm, and with interest rates over 20% at the time, our prospects were dire.
Eilis had been an orchestral cellist before getting married at 19 to international showjumper Paddy Quinlan. “Life was great for the first few years, and we could ride the horses together and travel to competitions – then the babies came…”
To try to get a handle on their finances, Eilis turned to books to learn about the mysterious word of debt and bank finance, but soon realised that this was not enough, so enrolled in a night course at Rathmines College of Commerce to study Accountancy. Paddy became the head babysitter for three evenings a week.
“I never looked back!! I found it all so interesting, the Law, the Economics – everything” and I managed to fly through the exams.
On opening her practice in Naas, Eilis quickly built up a loyal and varied client base. “I was so lucky because within a year of opening up, the Government offered an Amnesty for off-shore accounts, so I met a number of new clients that stuck with me afterwards, who may never have had the need for an accountant in the past!
“I was unaware at the time that networking is such a successful way to grow your business, but as I enjoyed it so much, I became a member of ISME (Irish Small and Medium Enterprises) and eventually became Chair of that organisation, which really raised my profile. I could identify passionately with the problems that SME’s were having, as I was one myself!”
What makes your business unique?
I feel that my experience with ISME and the local Chambers gave me unique insights into the issues my client base were having on a daily basis. This equipped me very well for helping them deal with it all. Also, the fact that I was a female sole practitioner operating in a very male oriented world, meant that I seemed to attract a wonderful cohort of female entrepreneurs.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
We had a major crop failure in 1984 on our farm, which destroyed much of the annual bank repayment for that year. With interest rates at the levels that they were, we were so close to bankruptcy. I knew we had to do something urgently to keep the roof over our heads, and taking night classes was very drastic at the time. I expected to work very hard over the next several years. What I DIDN’T expect was to love accountancy so much!
What moment/deal would you cite as a turning point for the company?
We won three major awards between 2019 and 2020, and I do think that this brought both recognition to my wonderful team (Small Practice of the Year) and myself (ACCA Accountant of the Year) and then the following year (ACCA Advocate for Europe and North America) really gave us all such a sense of achievement.
What were the best and worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best was not to go into partnership, as it is never equal. There is always one that will pull their weight more. Of course, I totally ignored the advice, and entered into a short-lived and miserable partnership which ended shortly after it began. The worst advice was to borrow as much as we did to buy our original farm.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to Government to stimulate the economy?
Support the SME’s! They are the employers, they stay and spend local, and we don’t up and leave Ireland once the grants run out. We are resilient, reactive and incredibly loyal, so a level playing field with the multi-nationals would be great! Also, PLEASE re-vamp the Leaving cert accountancy papers…
What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
I see people (understandably) grow their businesses very fast, focusing on the things they like to do best, and ignoring the paperwork. While this might work in the short term, once you grow and scale, unless you have the fundamentals built securely, you will lose control and can ultimately fail.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Be brave but careful, passionate but calculated, and always think long-term.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We trade in Ireland and Britain. We also have a little niche in Europe and North America for the competitive equine industry
What lightbulb moment prompted you to make big changes in your business?
I was travelling a lot and with a bad back, was hating carrying a laptop, mobile, briefcase etc and realised that more and more people preferred to travel light, preferably with everything you need accessible on your mobile. We moved the practice fully to the Cloud, with an integrated tech stack that ensures as a customer, you can now have your accurate and up to the minute financial information at your fingertips whenever you need it. When you need to make those important business decisions, they will be based on the most current facts and figures for your business